Reprinted from the National Post
July 12, 2002
By Brian Ray
Sending immigrants to underpopulated regions as part of a regional economic development strategy, as proposed by Denis Coderre, Canada's Immigration Minister, is far from new, and has been discussed at least since the 1975 Green Paper on Immigration Policy. (Mr. Coderre's Great Leap Forward, June 24).
The United States successfully "regionalized" its immigrants during the 1990s when a significant upswing appeared in the number of immigrants locating in smaller cities beyond the traditional gateways of New York, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago. Nashville, Denver, Minneapolis, Lincoln, Lexington and Portland, Oregon, as well as many smaller cities and towns in the Midwest, are now home to substantial immigrant communities. That success has relatively little to do with policy, and much more to do with the nature of opportunities in those locales. The key difference between Canada and the United States lies in the diversified labour markets in many medium- to small-sized American cities. This is a fact that Mr. Coderre's emphasis on regional economic development seems not to appreciate. Immigrants will go to cities where there are jobs for all adults in a family, not just for men. Places that provide opportunities for women and men are places that prosper, and this is as true for immigrants as it is for the Canadian-born population. Immigrants also go to places where there is a range of high quality education opportunities for children -- from primary school through to post-secondary institutions.
Unlike the United States, there are relatively few places in Canada that can boast a range of employment, education and economic opportunities for an entire family. One of the realities of many Canadian cities and towns is that employment opportunities tend to rely on a small number of industrial sectors.
Without doubt, immigrants contribute in remarkable ways to the economies of the cities where they live, but their efforts more often than not rest on an existing diversified base of opportunities. One cannot but applaud Mr. Coderre's enthusiasm for spreading the economic and social benefits of immigration beyond Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. But let's be realistic and target medium-size cities like Calgary, Ottawa and Halifax where immigrants can capitalize on a broad range of labour force opportunities and draw upon the formal and informal resources of existing immigrant communities.
Dr. Brian Ray, Policy Analyst, Migration Policy Institute, Washington, D.C.
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